After the Hottest Decade on Record, Let’s Bike for Climate Stability

by Dennis Markatos-Soriano

NASA just reported that the past decade was the hottest on record, going back to 1880. And the year 2009 was the second hottest year in those same record books (2005 was hotter). The past 30 years have shown a .2 degree Celsius (.36 degree Fahrenheit) increase per decade and predictions are for this trend to continue since global greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow.

Most scientists say that we have to stabilize and even start reducing global emissions this decade to have a chance at preventing catastrophic consequences such as massive land loss due to sea level rise. Developed countries with high per capita emissions like the US have a special responsibility to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Luckily for us in the US, growth in efficiency, wind and solar power (as well as a shift from coal to natural gas) have helped emissions fall more than 8% over the last two years. But the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects emissions to climb at least 1.5% this year and next due to increased coal and oil consumption during economic recovery.

Instead of allowing increases in emissions these next two years, we can hold emissions constant or even lower them slightly as long as we embrace biking, walking and transit more in our local communities. If we increase the biking and walking share of our commute by 12.5% per year throughout this decade, then we would achieve most of Obama’s goal to cut emissions to 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, as I laid out in a December blog here.

Here is what we would need to do in 2010 and 2011:

To achieve 12.5% growth in the bike/pedestrian commuter share, would mean that 1.3% of Americans this year decide to ride their bicycle and/or walk instead of taking their SUV to work, school, and play.

Next year, another 1.4% of Americans trade-in their motorized vehicle to cycle or walk.

This isn’t drastic change, just rational shifts toward environmental and financial sustainability. Such a change could save us money and help us get through the difficult economic conditions ahead. Back of the envelope calculations show that we could save billions of dollars each year through such a shift based on reduced expenditure on gasoline and diesel, around $5 billion in 2010 (1.25% of commuters*12 million barrels per day [subtracting out oil used for heating, electricity, and plastics, etc.]*365 days*$75/barrel). Instead of sending money out of our communities to Saudi and Russian oil tycoons, we could use those savings more productively by buying local and paying down some of our burdensome debts.

Continued improvements in our East Coast Greenway corridor can help us achieve such goals safely and inspire other green transportation networks throughout the country. Can you make the switch to active transportation, at least for shorter trips? Do you know a friend or family member who may be able to – especially if you give them a bike tune-up or a helmet for their birthday :) ? And can you help grow our membership at the East Coast Greenway Alliance so that we can keep moving in the right direction together?

Together, we can make America a sustainable and healthy model of climate responsibility!

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